Arsenal 1 (Fabregas pen 90) Leeds (Snodgrass pen 54)
(FA Cup 3rd Round)
Two legs of a Carling Cup semi-final with Ipswich, a replay against Leeds as a result of this draw, and a home tie with Huddersfield in we progress. In each of those games, many of these squad players (or reserves, depending on your point of view) will again feature, and if they play as poorly as they did yesterday, we might find ourselves suffering an embarrassing and costly cup defeat somewhere along the line. More than one has been unhappy at being out of the team of late, but the performances of the majority yesterday largely justified Wenger’s recent selections.
We did create quite a few chances, but so does everyone against Leeds – their defence has been pitiful this season yet we made them look assured. When the opportunities did come, our finishing was anything but clinical, ranging from players lacking in confidence (Arshavin) to those brimming with it (Bendtner). Neither did their claims for a place in the team any good, although at least both gave it their all, which made some of the fan reaction all the more unsavoury, groaning every time Arshavin in particular made a mistake. I know he’s on poor form, but he is trying to work his way out of it, and getting on his back isn’t going to help. I get that he’s a frustrating player, but I do wonder if some reactions are a hindrance rather than a help.
While we were frustrating going forward, we were actually pretty decent at the back, particularly the assured Djourou, who continued his rapid improvement of recent times. Leeds barely threatened in the first half, but were gifted a penalty in the second when Denilson lazily hung a leg at Gradel, who went over. It was a truly stupid challenge, and one that made no sense whatsoever – if you are going to challenge, do it properly. Hanging a leg isn’t going to win the ball, and invites the player to tumble and win the spot kick. It isn’t the first time Denilson’s been guilty of this sort of thing, and while he is a more useful player than many give him credit for, he really has to cut out his brain farts which are so often costly.
The goal lifted Leeds, and Szczesny was forced into a terrific save from Becchio’s header soon after. It would prove to be a key moment. As the minutes ticked away, Wenger played his cards, bringing on Cesc, Walcott and Vela, and while the Mexican was inevitably anonymous, the former two combined for the late leveller. Moments after Walcott claimed a penalty and was denied, he was awarded one after Parker pulled him back. Cesc slammed it down the middle and our place in the FA Cup was rescued.
Despite the lateness of the equaliser, we should have gone on to win. Denilson showed his positive side with a terrific effort that was well saved, and Bendtner shanked another good opportunity woefully wide. We certainly finished well, but it was a huge frustration that it took so long to wake us up. It seems we’re excellent at home if we go into the match full of respect for the opposition, but the minute we think the game will be a breeze, we put in an insipid performance that risks dropped points or an early exit from a cup. Another wake up call for those who think we’ll cruise past Ipswich in the Carling Cup.
The replay isn’t ideal, but realistically, many of those playing in league football at the weekend won’t be featuring, so it will give the fringe players another chance to impress – I don’t expect Wenger to play a radically different side. A kind home draw with Huddersfield would be the reward for going through, which would give the majority of them yet another game.
Our entire squad is going to be required and rotated over the next month. Should we crash out of a cup competition, I sincerely believe it will not be the fault of Wenger for giving the squad players a chance. It will be theirs for not taking it.